21 June ‘Freedom Day' decision expected today

14 June 2021 by
21 June ‘Freedom Day' decision expected today

It is expected to be confirmed today whether ‘Freedom Day' on 21 June will see an easing of restrictions in England, including the reopening of nightclubs and the end of social distancing.

The announcement is expected at 6pm, however several newspapers are already reporting that the easing is to be delayed by several weeks.

UKHospitality has warned that the government must stick to its roadmap or risk further jeopardising the future of thousands of hospitality businesses and the jobs they provide. The trade association said any delay would be devastating for the sector and around 300,000 jobs would be put at risk, including those still on furlough.

Hospitality has lost more than £87b in sales due to the pandemic, leaving businesses deeply in debt. Even with partial reopening sales remain down 42%.

A one-month delay to restrictions lifting would cost the sector around £3b in sales – but would also have a knock-on impact on bookings throughout the summer and into the autumn. Alongside the impact on revenue, businesses are now facing a jump in costs, with business rates payments set to recommence and employer contributions to furlough kicking in.

There are also concerns regarding the sector's £2.5b in rent arrears, which landlords can demand in full from 1 July, unless the government intervenes to delay the end of the temporary moratorium on commercial rent.

UKHospitality chief executive Kate Nicholls said: "The government has a balance to strike but due to the amazing efforts of the NHS in rolling out vaccines, it is time to lift the restrictions that are crushing businesses.

"A full and final ending of restrictions is the only way to ensure that businesses in this sector can trade profitably. If government decides it has to keep some restrictions in place after 21 June, then it must prioritise those that do the least damage to business and commit to further supporting the sector.

"Confidence has been shaken so it is imperative that government postpones business rates payments until at least October and extend the rent and debt moratoria for hospitality businesses while a long-term solution to Covid arrears is found.

"Businesses need a swift, publicly-stated commitment that such support will be in place in the event of any delays, giving them much-needed reassurance after more than 15 months of closure and severely disrupted trading."

Sacha Lord, night-time economy advisor for Greater Manchester, has also called for urgent clarity on the financial assistance that will be offered if the reopening is delayed.

Nine in 10 nightlife operators have said any delay to the final stage of reopening could threaten the survival of their business and many had already invested financially in 21 June as a reopening date.

Lord said: "If this leak is confirmed by the prime minister on Monday, it's imperative we're given immediate clarity on the ongoing financial support to be offered during the period of delay. We know nine in 10 venues have already made commitments reliant on the 21 June date, whether that's taking staff off furlough or ordering in stock, and these owners will now be under severe pressure.

"In addition to delaying the furlough repayments and rent moratoriums, I am looking to the chancellor to commit to a long-term extension of the 5% VAT reduction for the night-time sector, extending the rate to include alcohol rather than just food, and allowing all hospitality venues equal footing to survive. There are over 1,800 wet-led pubs in Greater Manchester alone, most of these in deprived areas, who are not only struggling with capacity restrictions but who have been unable to benefit at all from the current VAT reductions."

He added: "If the data shows we must delay to reduce infection transmissions, we must have a proper plan in place to give businesses the best possible chance to survive."

The Night-Time Industries Association (NTIA) has said it will challenge the government if the easing is delayed.

Photo: Number 10/Flickr

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